a guest post by Allyson Rice
I’m excited to share with you this guest post by my sister Southerner Allyson Rice (AWT viewers may remember her as Connor Walsh). She’s an adventurer, an artist, a writer, and wickedly funny. After you’ve enjoyed the informative essay, you’ll want enter the contest for a chance to win a signed copy of her new book, The Key to Circus-Mom Highway.
My recently released novel, The Key to Circus-Mom Highway, features a road trip as the central action within the story, the precipitating (and ongoing) event that everything else springs from. I’m often asked how I went about writing a road trip and if I’ve been to all of the places along the way. I was born in West Virginia, I’ve been through the Deep South, and my family lived in Oxford, Mississippi for a few years during my childhood. But when I was writing the first draft of the novel, I had not been to the places that my trio of siblings visited. Not yet…
If you’re writing about a road trip, the first step is deciding what the road trip is about. Why are your characters going on one? What is the purpose? What geographical area does your road trip encompass? And is there a set timeframe your characters are working within? All the basic questions.
In my book, there are specific stops my trio of siblings has to make, as dictated by their now-deceased birth mom. And there is a non-negotiable one-week timeframe attached to their road trip. She wanted her kids to know why she made the choices in life that she made – why she had abandoned them as infants. And the one-week stipulation in the will creates urgency around it. I knew I wanted the sisters (who live in the Chicago area) to feel like fish-out-of-water, so I then had to decide where they’d be traveling to set that up effectively. For people who haven’t been there, the Deep South can feel like a different world. Perfect, I decided.
Once I had the general geographic location set,I could begin setting the specific stops they’d be making each day, so I began looking at routes and driving times. We’re lucky to have the internet because a great deal of information can be discovered through Google searches. So that is where I’d recommend starting. Get all of your logistical details set and then you can begin fleshing out your story and adding details.
I did all of the online research that I could in choosing the routes and locations, then I fleshed out the story details until I had an ending, and I completed the first draft. Now here’s where my biggest suggestion comes into play. Once you’ve done all your virtual research and have finished your first draft… then I would suggest you actually go on the road trip you’ve just written. This is key because it’s where you’ll collect all of the sensory details that will make your locations come alive. Details you won’t necessarily find online because they’re details that will be filtered through you and the unique way you perceive things. Some visual detail that might not have registered at all with me might become a major plot point with you. That’s what makes our stories different – our personal filters, our unique voices.
My adult son and I did the first road trip together, driving (and eating our way) through the loop of towns in southern Louisiana. We ate po’ boys, alligator stew, boudin balls, grits, and crawfish etouffee. We stayed on a houseboat in the Atchafalaya swamp, stayed at a honkey tonk where the live music rattled the walls, did a swamp tour with a grizzled 9-fingered tour guide (he lost a finger feeding a gator), and I took reference photos and made detailed notes of the things we saw in the area. My trio of siblings doesn’t actually do that full loop, but… their first stop is in Thibodeaux, Louisiana, and the sisters do go to New Orleans to collect the brother they just found out about. The reason we did that full loop is because there are towns and details of the area that come into play during the flashbacks of the young mom’s life.
The second part of the road trip I did with my mom. We went to Alabama and listened to live music in one of the last authentic juke joints in the U.S. And we drove on the back roads in southern Georgia where the trio is forced to make a detour. I wanted to know if the places I had chosen virtually actually worked in real life. They did. But I discovered even more than I was hoping for. There were new stops that were added once I had driven the roads in person. Towns that hadn’t been on my radar initially (like Plains, Georgia) when I was just focused on the logistical details became wonderful new scenes in the book when I got home.
Before my road trip, I hadn’t yet settled on the specific coastal island off of Savannah where the mom’s final home was to be located. It wasn’t set until we actually reached Savannah. In between exploring Bonaventure Cemetery, and taking a haunted tour in a renovated hearse, and exploring historical sites and shops like the siblings do in the book, we also explored the coastal islands and I chose the final location.
I can’t stress enough how important it was in the writing of this road trip to have actually made the trip myself. There were so many details, large and small – sights, sounds, tastes, etc – that were added to the second draft of the story once I had lived them. This is when the locations in the book came to life because those locations had come to life within me after having been there. Could I have written the book without having done the trip? Sure. But would it have been as good? No, I think not.
Trust me, if you go on the road trip that you’re writing, your readers will thank you. And you will have created a memory that will last a lifetime, so make sure you take someone you love along for the ride (and make them drive so you can take photos and make notes!)
In an attempt to secure an unexpected inheritance—and hopefully find a few answers—two estranged sisters and their newly discovered brother embark on a comically surreal trip through the Deep South to retrace the life of the mother who abandoned them as infants.
On a Tuesday afternoon, sisters Jesse Chasen and Jennifer McMahon receive a phone call notifying them that their birth mother has died, leaving behind a significant inheritance. But in order to obtain it, they must follow a detailed road trip she designed for them to get to know her—and that includes finding a brother they never knew existed.
For the next week, this ill-assorted trio treks across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to meet their mother’s old friends, from circus performers to a juke joint owner, each of whom delivers a shocking vignette into the life of a young mother traumatized by loss and abuse. Along the way, these three siblings—Jesse, whose fiery exterior disguises a wounded, drifting musician stuck in a rut; Jennifer, whose carefully curated family life is threatened by her husband’s infidelity; and Jack, whose enigmatic Jackie, Oh! persona in the New Orleans drag queen scene helps him escape the nightmares of Afghanistan that haunt him at night—must confront their own demons (and at least one alligator). But in chasing the truth about their real mother, they may all just find their second chance.
This uproarious debut novel is a reminder that sometimes, the family you’d never have chosen may turn out to be exactly what you need.
About the Author
Allyson Rice is a writer, mixed media artist, and a producer with Atomic Focus Entertainment, currently splitting her time between Los Angeles, CA, and Rehoboth Beach, DE. She’s a graduate of Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. After spending many years as an actress on stage and on television, she left acting and spent the next decade running yoga/meditation retreats, women’s retreats, and creativity retreats around the country. After that, she pivoted to focus on her own creative work. In addition to her writing and art, she’s also a photographer.
Some random bits of Allyson trivia:
- She’s been skydiving, paragliding, bungee jumping, ziplining through a rainforest, and scuba diving with stingrays;
- she has an extensive PEZ dispenser collection;
- she played Connor Walsh on As the World Turns for seven years;
- she’s been in the Oval Office at the White House after hours;
- she’s related to the Hatfields of the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud; and
- her comedic rap music video “Fine, I’ll Write My Own Damn Song” won numerous awards in the film festival circuit.
Also available from Allyson is her line of women’s coloring books (The Color of Joy, Dancing with Life, and Wonderland), and The Creative Prosperity PlayDeck, an inspirational card deck about unlocking and utilizing your creative energy in the world. They’re available on www.Allyson-Wonderland.com.
She’s currently at work on her second novel and her fourth women’s coloring book.
Also, anyone who signs up for Allyson’s periodic author newsletter on her website will be entered in a drawing to have a character in her next novel named after them, and a free book will be given away in each newsletter to a subscriber!
The Key to Circus-Mom Highway by Allyson Rice Book Tour Giveaway
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